As with the Kate Bush record from last week, I feel the need to start things off with an open, cheerful admission that I am not part of this album’s target audience. I’ve never been a big Madonna fan, actually, but there were times in the ’80s when I was unable to deny the power of one or two of her songs. And since her shift to icy electronic club music, I’ve developed a sort of nostalgic fondness for the sugary crap like “Borderline” that drove me nuts when it was popular.
And I think that’s part of Madonna’s problem — outside of club queens and insanely hardcore fans (of which, admittedly, Madonna has quite a few), there probably aren’t many people who could honestly say they prefer her later stuff. A lot of performers could address this by trying to go back to basics, and that’s sort of what Madonna’s doing here, but it’s a move she can’t make all the way. She’s something like 50 years old now, after all, and couldn’t get away with it even if she wanted to, any more than your mom could sing “Like A Virgin” without making you laugh.
It’s a tough position to be in. A large portion of Madonna’s success has always relied on her ability to sense the zeitgeist, but nobody can stay on the cutting edge forever, and that’s a position she’s been slipping from since Ray of Light. But then what’s she left with? Her music has, for the most part, depended more on style than substance. This is a criticism that’s dogged her throughout her career, but I don’t mean it as a criticism, really. To me, Madonna’s best songs aren’t even really songs, so much as they’re musical metacultural statements. That lends stuff like “Papa Don’t Preach” a little more weight and value than I’d prefer, but so be it — really, she’s done a pretty amazing job of using everything at her disposal to make music that’s absolutely perfect for its time.
But the problem with this is obvious: The music is then tied to its time, irrevocably, and loses its value as it ages. More importantly, it has left Madonna without anything to fall back on. There’s no Madonna sound, really. The only way she can really get back to her “roots” is by making music that sounds like “Lucky Star” or “La Isla Bonita,” and that’s just silly.
So what she’s left with is Confessions on a Dance Floor, a curious bit of quasi-retrenching that sounds a little like a half-hearted apology for American Life. I don’t dance, so a large part of this set’s appeal is probably lost on me, and you’re welcome to give it a spin under your favorite disco ball and enjoy it as Madonna intended. Non-boogie people like myself, however, are forced to judge tracks like “I Love New York” (download) and “Push” (download) strictly on their musical merits, which are rather thin.
“I Love New York,” in particular, is awful. Not that Madonna has ever been a poet, exactly, but I believe she may have reached a new low here. I challenge any of you to listen to the lyrics without laughing.
“Push,” on the other hand, is kind of engaging, but only as a calculated (I hope) retread of former glories; the only reason it stands out here is that it’s the only song with anything that really resembles a pop hook.